Five and a half years ago we took in our first foster, Ella, and her four puppies. Ella was a stray who had been shot, ended up pregnant and in a rural shelter. She was pulled by a rescue, had her puppies, and transported to a secondary rescue. Fostering them was supposed to be a week long reprieve for their current placement. It was our first time fostering and we had no idea what we were in for, but we knew it would be a short trial.
Or so we thought.
After a week, we were asked if we wanted to keep her and the puppies until their adoptions, and we agreed. A couple weeks later we went out of town, so Ella stayed with another family for a week. When we left, she ran to the door to watch us leave. Our hearts broke leaving her. She wasn’t even our dog, but we loved her already.
When we came home from that trip, we opened the trunk of the car to put in her food and other belongings, but Ella had other things in mind. She jumped inside the trunk herself, refusing to get out. We didn’t know it yet, but I think that was the moment she claimed us as her people.
That was her telling us we could never leave her.
We tried to find her the perfect family to accept her and her quirkiness, but she only had a handful of families meet her before we got the news. That trip we were on was the same one she had a lump aspirated that started the journey none of us wanted for Ella. Eventually we found out she had mammary cancer.
We were told it was invading the tissue around her mammary chain, and it couldn’t all be removed at once. Ella was supposed to stay at the vet longer than she did, but they asked us to bring her home because she didn’t want to be away from us - she was refusing to eat and things weren’t going well. She was making her mark again and we still didn’t know it.
When we finally got the news of her cancer and saw how poorly she had recovered from the first surgery, with her coordinator and vet’s guidance, we decided she would be a hospice dog.
We had just adopted one of her pups, but we couldn’t send her somewhere else to live out her remaining time…. But this wasn’t exactly what we had anticipated when we signed up for fostering either!
But the love we felt for this dog was immeasurable, and we couldn’t send her anywhere else. She wasn’t going to go through this alone. We wanted to keep her for — what we all thought would be — her last months. We promised we would never leave her.
Those last months turned into nearly SIX YEARS. We felt like frauds saying we had a “hospice foster”. This dog tricked multiple vets into believing her time was limited. But she was stubborn and a fighter. She wanted to live. And she did. On her terms, in her own way.
We made her Bucket List and checked everything off of it. We added more things. We did everything she loved to do and then some. She had an Easter Egg hunt, met Santa, and had her own party at Mutts Paradise. She had her story told on NBC4s Max’s Mission - twice - and her party was on People Pets. She did paw paintings, though not well, had family portraits, and so much more. We spent every day telling this girl how beautiful and perfect and loved she was (side note: we all knew it was a lie — she wasn’t *actually* perfect, but in her own, rotten, Christmas-ornament-eating, attitude-barking, car-ride-hating, goofy way, she was perfect).
She was stubborn & a fighter. We joked that she would live for 30 more years and would be passed on to multiple generations, because this dog was never going to slow down.
But her body did. As much as she didn’t want it to, and as painful as it was to watch happen, she got weaker and more confused. The masses were getting larger and sometimes bleeding, but she wouldn’t let us see or touch them. She would have a hard time getting around, but being the independent girl she was, she didn’t want help. When she would fall, there were limited areas we could touch to help her up. But she didn’t want us to leave her either. She wanted to know we were here, and that was enough.
After seeing multiple signs that it was time, we talked to her to let her know that we were scheduling Dr. Rikh with Kona's Loving Paws to come. She kissed our hands and laid her head down to rest, so we took that as her agreeing it’s time.
When Dr. Rikh came to see us, she met us in our grief and came prepared with tissues for us and chocolates for Ella. Dr. Rikh talked to Ella, pet her, and loved on her with us, while listening to us talk about Ella’s amazing story. Ella’s body was ready to end her journey, even if her spirit wasn’t.
This is the hardest part of having a pet, and even though Ella was never officially ours, she was a huge part of our family. We will be forever grateful that she chose us to be her foster moms for 293 weeks instead of just one week. Just like we promised all those years ago — we never left her side, and until her last breath, we pet her, told her we loved her, and how perfect she was to us.
The hope you gave to so many will live on. We’ll miss you forever, sweet girl.